Hiccup fast facts

  • Hiccup triggers usually involve your stomach, esophagus, or a nerve.
  • Dry foods and alcohol can cause hiccups in multiple ways.
  • Hiccups usually stop on their own within 48 hours.
  • Have your symptoms evaluated by a doctor if you have hiccups that continue for more than 48 hours.

Hiccups happen when your diaphragm spasms, causing it and the muscles between your ribs (the intercostal muscles) to suddenly contract. This rapidly pulls air into your lungs.

Fractions of a second later, the flap that closes off your airway to prevent food getting in your lungs (the epiglottis) slams shut. The rapid closure makes the characteristic sound of a hiccup.

The diaphragm is a flat muscle separating your lungs from your abdomen. Along with the intercostal muscles, the diaphragm is important for breathing. Anything that signals your diaphragm to suddenly spasm can cause hiccups. It’s an involuntary action. You have no control over it.

Things that irritate your stomach or cause it to rapidly expand commonly trigger hiccups. This includes the things you eat as well as how much and how fast you eat.

Quickly filled stomach

Anything that causes your stomach to become bigger than usual (distension) can trigger hiccups. Your stomach lies right underneath your diaphragm on your left side. It’s possible that distension triggers hiccups by pressing on or irritating your diaphragm.

Things that can cause stomach distension include:

  • eating a lot of food at one time
  • eating food very quickly
  • swallowing air (aerophagia), especially while chewing or talking while eating
  • getting gas in your stomach by drinking carbonated beverages
  • drinking a lot of alcohol, especially beer, over a short time

Temperature change in your esophagus

Things that irritate or suddenly change the temperature of your esophagus can also cause hiccups. This may be related to irritation or stimulation of the nerves that cause the diaphragm to contract.

The main nerves are the phrenic nerve and the vagus nerve. They reside near your esophagus, so food and liquid can stimulate them as you swallow. Irritants can include:

  • very hot food
  • spicy food
  • acidic food
  • very cold liquids
  • alcohol

Non-food irritants

Things other than food can irritate or stimulate the nerves that control your diaphragm and cause hiccups while you’re eating. Some of these things are:

  • excitement
  • emotional stress
  • suddenly inhaling very cold air

Multiple triggers

Some things may cause hiccups in more than one way.

Eating dry food, such as bread

Dry food can simply tickle or irritate the back of your throat. Dry food is also more difficult to chew and swallow than soft or liquid foods. You may be swallowing bigger pieces, which can distend your stomach.

At the same time, you swallow more air when eating things that are difficult to chew. This can add to stomach distension.

Drinking alcohol

Drinking a lot of alcohol, especially beer, over a short time can distend the stomach. The carbonation in beer and other carbonated beverages like soda can add to distension, too. Alcohol can also be an irritant to your esophagus.

Hiccups will usually go away on their own.

Nothing has been proven to stop hiccups. However, there are some methods you can try to get rid of them quicker. Keep in mind these methods don’t always work. Common hiccup stoppers include the following:

  • Breathe into a paper bag.
  • Hold your breath for 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Hug your knees while you lean forward.
  • Use the Valsalva maneuver (bear down while holding your breath).
  • Drink or gargle with water or ice water.
  • Suck on a lemon.
  • Try to control your breathing by relaxing and slowing it down.
  • Eat a teaspoon of white sugar.
  • Drink hot water with honey in it.
  • Have someone try to scare you.

If you’re trying to avoid a case of hiccups, the best way to prevent them is to avoid things that cause stomach distension or irritate your esophagus. Avoid the following:

  • acidic food
  • alcohol
  • carbonated beverages
  • eating very quickly
  • hot or spicy food
  • overeating
  • swallowing air while chewing
  • talking while eating
  • very cold liquids

Hiccups usually stop on their own within 48 hours.

According to a 2012 article, hiccups lasting from 48 hours to two months are called persistent hiccups. Hiccups that last more than two months are called intractable hiccups. They may also be called chronic hiccups.

Both persistent and intractable hiccups can be a symptom of a serious condition, like a stroke, or a minor condition, like a sore throat. There are almost always other signs and symptoms of the underlying condition, though. This often makes it easier for your doctor to confirm a diagnosis or rule things out.

Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours in children and adults should be evaluated by a doctor.

Hiccups lasting less than 48 hours usually don’t need to be evaluated unless they occur so often or are so severe they interfere with daily activities, like sleeping or eating.

Hiccups and heart disease

Occasionally, hiccups are an unusual symptom of a heart condition.

A 2018 report described a man with a very high risk for heart disease who went to the emergency room complaining of having hiccups for four days. An electrocardiogram (ECG) obtained for other reasons showed he was having a heart attack, even though he had none of the usual signs or symptoms.

Older reports also describe a possible connection of persistent hiccups as a symptom of damage to blood vessels or muscles in the heart.

Anything that irritates your esophagus or causes stomach distension can cause hiccups after eating.

Hiccups usually stop by themselves, but there are things you can try to make them stop quicker. You can also try to prevent them by avoiding certain foods and drinks.

Hiccups can be irritating, but more often than not, they’re harmless.